Last night we met on the back porch.  Jessica had warm chocolate chip cookies and a home-made pizza.  We talked, again, about the same thing we had discussed last week at Darren and Char’s place.  What to do about the shooting in our neighborhood.

Last week someone was shot to death in front of Darren and Char’s building.  It’s the first shooting death this year in our neighborhood.  But many gunshots have come before that one bullet.  At times we hear them as we lie in bed on an otherwise quiet night.  Or we happen to glimpse out the window just as someone falls, writhing in pain.

What do we do?

Last week we agreed.  Prayer.  And a candle in the window.  Last night, more logistics.  Today, Gail posted to Temple House Dwellers Facebook:

“Last night we decided to light a candle every Wednesday from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM and pray for an end to violence in our neighborhood. We hear gun shots but acknowledge that there are other acts of violence as well. We want our neighborhood to be a welcoming place where hospitality is practiced. Shooting at each other is not welcoming or hospitable…(yes, I often state the obvious, can’t help myself). We know that there is more to do on this but we are going to start with the lighting of candles and ask God to help us hear and see what the next step will be. We still have not come up with a ‘slogan’ but feel it will come.”

One more thing we agreed will help us to pray for our neighborhood.

When we lie in bed on a quiet night or are out walking and hear ringing in the distance on the hour the church bell of St Francis de Sales Oratory we will pray.

So, here we go.

St Francis in the distance

Stephen Eide wrote last week in the NY Times of Nathan Bomey’s new book  Detroit Resurrected “the most thoroughly reported account of the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. It also stands as a valuable work of urban policy. The overarching theme of the book is how Detroit turned to bankruptcy to restore the social contract.”

I have been gone long enough (12 years) from Detroit that the image in my head is likely marred by inaccuracy of memory.  The city is also a different place.

Four years ago I was back in town, by choice.  A weekend trip for an event north of Detroit gave me a few hours to revisit.  Even then the city seemed different from my memories.  And it was in worse shape.

The building I had worked from was trashed.  The neighborhood grocery, one of few independent stores in the city, was closed.  Its parking lot was filled with garbage.  Windows smashed.

It was sad to now see the former Salvation Army building at the corner of Dundee and Grand River.  Left alone, an orphan, unclaimed and empty.  Not long after my visit the building was burned.  I haven’t been back since.

Dundee  4 13 2013 c

My weekend visit four years ago:  I decided not to try go inside.

When someone writes of Detroit in terms of resurrection is it a miracle?  In spite of appearance, the reality is that this largest of municipal bankruptcies featured “ownership of a world-class art museum and the almost unbelievable harmony that prevailed among all public officials involved in the process: local Democrats, the Republican governor and State Legislature, members of the judiciary and the state-appointed emergency manager. After six decades of uninterrupted decline, Detroit, for once, seemed to catch all the breaks.”

Resurrection needs to rise from someplace.  An art museum worth more than eight billion and unanimous good will.  Detroit, the city, has this.

Now it’s to be seen if Detroit, its neighborhoods, each of them, have someplace from which to rise.

Gail and I talk regularly about the Urban Mission Center.  I try to keep some distance to remain simply a contributing voice.   

Here’s our most recent construction about what the UMC is to do. I guess you could call this its mission. 

The Urban Mission Center prepares:

  • people for the city
  • the Army for the city
  • the Army for people of the city
  • people of the city for the Army

Well, there is the bare bones of it. Much of our conversation in the car and over coffee is now fleshing this out.   

More later on this.  

An open note to Sara and Gail –

This paragraph (“In other words … sail quickly out of harbors that have silted up”) from Eberhard Bethge’s biography on Bonhoeffer expresses what I feel you are faced with in developing the UMC.

Safe journey!

  
 

 I do not trust the loudest most insistent voices.

True, those voices make it easy to absolve myself of responsibility. Simply do what they ask.  The loudest in a roomful of children usually succeed in getting our attention.  How loud they can be when it’s time to pass out treats.

But I’ve discovered God speaking in the slow-to-speak-quiet voice.  Often lost in the noise generated by the pushy-too-loud crowd.  Sometimes it is a voice speaking only through a look or a touch.

That’s the point when we read the Gospel account of the woman healed by reaching out and touching the hem of Jesus’ clothes.  It surprised his disciples, and the woman, that in the pushy loud crowd Jesus noticed.

Phil Needham’s When God Becomes Small (Abingdon Press 2014) continues to impress on me the value God places on the small.  I have been reading his use of ‘small’ as equivalent to my use of ‘powerless’.

One afternoon several years ago I saw this powerlessness as I drove past a frail aged woman walking along the street.  All drivers slowed and swung wide to give her a safe margin.  That image has stayed.  It keeps revisiting me as an image of the power powerlessness of God.

God’s power is not like the power of the loud and insistent.  Divine power is quiet, persistent and also easy to go unnoticed.  It appears as helpless, unimportant, the least, as a child, as small, as human.

Years ago a mentor taught me that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman.  I find that image consistent with Jesus.  Instead of dictates, questions.  Instead of the well-placed, outsiders.  Instead of orders, invitations.  Instead of barging in he says ‘behold, I stand at the door and knock’ (Revelation 3:20).

Jesus gives a list of the powerless in Matthew 25.  It is clear that it is him that we hear, see and help in the hungry, thirsty, alien, cold, sick, and imprisoned.  If we do, we receive his welcome and kingdom.

I leave you with this verse from William Edwin Orchard.

Like summer seas that lave with silent tides a lonely shore, like whispering winds that stir the tops of forest trees,

like a still small voice that calls us in the watches of the night, like a child’s hand that feels about a fast-closed door;

gentle, unnoticed, and oft in vain; so is Thy coming unto us, O God.

 

I woke a few minutes before my clock radio.  I rose and walked down the hall toward the stairs.

I pause.  Out of the window north I see as I’ve seen before, but this morning I pause, notice, and wonder what is the story in that apartment.  It’s a block away.  A large empty lot intervenes, clearing the way for my eyes.  It’s a generous line of sight this upstairs northward view gives.  The apartment is dark just as are most at this time of morning.  On the streets very few people yet.  

I creak my way down the stairs.  16 steep steps.  Midway my view changes.  Through the window above our front door I now see across the street.  That house is also dark but it is always dark.

Last week when John and Betsy stayed a few days on Arsenal I learned that Mrs. Williams once lived in the house.  John told me that he knew her.  Often stopped to visit. Regularly helped with the kind of things an elderly woman living alone could not do for herself.

Mrs. Williams no longer lives in that house nor in this world.  The house is dark.

Some say that the world too is dark. At five on a winter morning, yes.  Moving beyond a literal sense, this world can be painted dark or light.  Depending on the viewer.

What do we expect to see?

This week I’ve resumed reading Phil Needham’s book When God Becomes Small.  I am reading where he says “we do not expect to encounter God, and therefore we usually do not.”  It is so when, Phil points out, we become distracted from the ‘all-important now’.  

One of my favorite set of lines is John Keble’s:

If on our daily course our mind, be set to hallow all we find, new treasures yet of countless price, God will provide for sacrifice.”

At that second line, usually quietly with my lips barely moving, I believe I experience an actual sharpening of my powers of awareness.  Everything and anything POPS!  

“…be set to hallow all we find…” 

is my psychic coffee.

The 5 o’clock bus.  What is the story of the opening of its door at the corner of our block, eastbound?  I hear it from my bed upstairs, before I look out of my first window for the day.  The hydraulic hiss of the lowering bus accompanies the recorded woman’s voice announcing the purpose of its stop. Someone gets on this bus every morning.  I am guessing to work.  That it’s a long trip with a transfer ahead.  It will be a long day for that man (let me make a man of him in my imagination, invited aboard by the woman’s voice).

This morning I have surprised the bus and the woman’s voice.  I am downstairs making coffee.  As I measure out scoops I hear the eastbound Arsenal bus, a hiss, the proclamation.  Then the bus roars away.

It carries a story.  

I live in a place surrounded by stories.  We call this place the city. 

how it looks this morning, the house of Mrs. Williams

Gary Busiek sent me a link to this St Louis Post-Dispatch story on the work called NightLIFE which the Reverend Kenneth McKoy leads in North St Louis.  Reverend McKoy is the pastor at Progressive AME Zion Church in St Louis’ Hamilton Heights neighborhood.

Reverend McKoy leads a small group that walks neighborhood streets for three hours each Saturday night.  Their focus is on young people, the young people at risk for violence.  NightLIFE shares sandwiches and prayer.  The point?  “They’re building relationships. Spreading hope. Spreading the message that they love the city’s young people more than they fear them.”

An excellent story.  And Reverend McKoy expressed what is at the center of what and why he does this.

“Hey, man, every time we pray for someone, God blesses them. That’s why we’re out here for you all. If you all don’t make it, we’re not going to make it.”

Texas looking east on Pestalozzi

Last night we headed west on Arsenal Street to Linda’s place.  Sweatshirt.  Light sweater.  December with no coats.

Has the weather this month where you live been warm, remarkably warmer than usual?  It’s been so in St Louis.  Yesterday may have set a record high with temps in the low 70s.  Our December weather is acting as backdrop for the global climate summit just ending in Paris.

We have now lived 14 weeks in Benton Park West.  Am I noticing what is going on in my neighborhood?

My morning run.  I run south through several of our neighborhoods.  Benton Park West.  Mount Pleasant.  Gravois Park.  Dutchtown.  Quiet places in the morning.  No crazy stuff other than a rare stray dog who wants to get too close to me.  I see neighborhoods rubbing their eyes as they put children out to wait for school buses.  Men and women returning from night shifts.

I also am beginning to notice changes.  New work beginning on the old yet beautiful St Louis brick houses on every block.  Mansions and humble working class homes built in the 19th century.  I note the portico temporarily propped on Nebraska Street now displaying proper columns.  One of my favorite places at a southwest corner on Ohio that has had backyard cleanup going on for weeks, now there are lights inside.  Is someone planning to fix up and live in it?

All along the streets of my running route I see the same places, and change.

This change, sometimes seen incrementally, other times dramatic (like another house on Nebraska wiped off its lot by demolition), I am learning to see it.

It is part of a larger rhythm, the rhythm of a city.

Here’s the entrance to that Ohio house –

photo 4 (2)

I’m going to CCDA in Memphis (November 11-14) and just looked at the workshops offered at this year’s national conference.

Temple House Dwellers:  you might want to start planning your choices for Thursday and Friday afternoons.

memphis-ccda

Flower HouseLisa Waud is a florist in Detroit who paid $250 for a house in Hamtramck.  This past weekend it was filled with 36,000 flowers.  Before the flowers 12,000 pounds of trash was removed.  This past weekend 2,000 people visited the house.  Now it “will be responsibly deconstructed and its materials repurposed. The land will be converted into a flower farm and design center on their formerly neglected properties.”

It’s called Flower House.  Last week the New York Times reported on the Flower House:

Flower House will be opened to ticketed visitors from Friday until Sunday. When the installation is finished, Reclaim Detroit’s crew will take down the house, leaving an empty field. The wood will be repurposed into new objects like tables, guitars and cutting boards …

The house itself is not salvageable. Like so many of the derelict Detroit homes that sell for rock-bottom prices, this one would cost more to rehabilitate than it is ever likely to be worth. A construction engineer whom Ms. Waud spoke with estimated the repair costs at $1 million. Paying this year’s property taxes on Flower House and its neighbor cost Ms. Waud three times what she spent to actually buy them …

When the lot is cleared, Ms. Waud plans to turn it into a seasonal farm to help supply flowers like peonies and dahlias for her business …

“It’s a beautiful ruin,” she said. “It’s charming, kind of scary and eerie, and beautiful in a dark way. To step into it is going to be surreal, and unforgettable.”

Yeah, I can imagine.

One last quote from Sally Vander Wyst, a collaborating florist from Milwaukee.  “”Our concept is post-apocalyptic spooky … we want it to look like the world ended and nature took things back within seconds.”

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